Book – The Road
Author – Cormac McCarthy
Year – 2006
Pages – 307
Genre – Post Apocalyptic
It would seem that there is something to be said for reading fiction that is hugely critically acclaimed. Hot off the heels of To Kill A Mockingbird, I grabbed another well regarded book from my bookshelf, and just jumped into it. Whilst they are very, very different books, the critics were again correct, and what I read was another incredible piece of writing.
The Road is set in an unspecified post apocalyptic future. We follow a man and his child, never named, as they try their best to survive and travel south, looking for a better future. Everything around them is covered in ash, and the country has long since been stripped to the bare bones for supplies. With little food, shelter or hope, they struggle along, scared and always only steps away from death.
It is bleak. This is in no way whatsoever a happy book. The outlook for these characters is continually bad, and instead you find yourself cheering for the smallest of victories – finding a tin of beans for instance. And yet it is written so beautifully that you are fully absorbed at all points. There is a quote on the front cover of the edition that I read from The Times – “A work of such terrible beauty that you will struggle to look away”. This sums it up perfectly. It has drive to it that leaves you always slightly breathless, despite a pace that would hardly be described as quick. A cleverer reviewer than me may be able to tell you what the meaning is behind McCarthy’s use of very little punctuation, particularly speech marks, but I can just tell you that it lends itself to a somewhat disjointed absorption that makes you feel as though you are floating just ever so slightly over the action at all points. The characters sometimes feel an overwhelming sense that there is no point whatsoever in carrying on, and it is difficult to not share in this sense with them, and yet, as the man says at one point, they have always been lucky so far
As I write this, we are just about to go into a second lockdown as a part of a global pandemic that has killed over a million people. Tonight will see possibly the most divisive election in the history of the United States of America, with a president that has threatened to not give up his seat should he be democratically defeated, and has encouraged violent acts against his opponents. The government in this country has attached more weight to political spin than to the lives of the people it represents, and from a personal point of view, I start back again at work tomorrow in one of the few settings in which huge gatherings of people is still recommended. With all of this in mind, it is surely of no surprise that I had difficulty sleeping the night after I started reading this book, and made a conscious effort to only read it in the morning after that. These are bleak times that we are living in at the moment, and whilst not as bleak as Cormac McCarthy’s creation, it is a stark reminder of what could potentially happen should we not look at ourselves carefully. I would recommend this book to anyone, but maybe not right at this moment in time. And whilst I usually rate books here based upon how much I enjoy them, this time it is getting a rating based upon what a wonderfully written, incredible novel it is. And with some luck, at some point, I will find myself looking back and enjoying it to the level that it deserves.